All fashion roads lead to Paris. While the Paris landscape is fractured with many smaller trade shows and showrooms competing for people’s time, it’s also the place where orders are written and retailers and people finally commit to the season. Word on the street was brands were deciding to forgo Florence’s Pitti Uomo for showrooms in Paris to justify the time and expense of doing the men’s fashion week circuit.
Left - Outside one of the Paris trade shows, Tranoi
Here are the trends and brands to know from Paris for AW19:
British fabrics are having a huge renaissance, none more so than for the AW19 season. E. Tautz has reworked the traditional black and white tweed into a vortex design that is both contemporary and respects the qualities and attraction of this type of fabric. Charles Jeffrey Loverboy turned up the dial on tartan with bold blue and red. This is a designer making the transition from the conceptual to beautifully cut and made pieces.
Right - E.Tautz tweed
Left - Charles Jeffrey Loverboy tartan
People are beginning to yearn for dressing up again. Tired of sportswear and the grunge aesthetic, this is a new idea of wearing something more dressed at anytime of the day. British designer, Bianca Saunders, captured this perfectly with extra ruched shirts a dark palette.
Left - Bianca Saunders AW19
Following on from Mary Katrantzou’s chesterfield sofa coats and Anya Hindmarch’s chubby hearts, it’s the men’s turn for something to take the cushion in a world full of sharp edges. This is from Virgil Abloh’s second collection for Louis Vuitton which was inspired by Michael Jackson. Overinflated much?!
Left - Louis Vuitton AW19
Heat bonded pockets and steel poppers are some of the details on menswear to make it perform and look high-tech. Mammunt Delta X is a new label, it debuts this SS19, from Swiss heritage mountaineering company Mammut. Using their 150 years of outdoor expertise, it is offering something younger and more urban to satisfy the insatiable thirst for element protecting products.
Left - Mammunt Delta X AW19
Jupe by Jackie has become come something of a cult label known for its hand embroidery. Established in 2010 by Dutch fashion designer Jackie Villevoye, Jupe by Jackie uses master embroiderers from the Indian province of Uttar Pradesh to work her designs onto items of clothing. J-B-J is a new, younger brand, from Jackie’s son, offering the signature embroidery on T-shirts and more casual pieces.
Left - J-B-J yeti, all hand embroidered
Made from plastic waste, Norden is a new outer label made entirely of single use plastic. Their “U-Trust” verification program provides customers with comprehensive certification designed for a high level of transparency. The Fiber Print technology validates the authenticity of the products, with complete analysis of all fabrications to support the certifications. All of the garments are free of fur, feathers, leather and all other animal by-products. There’s even an internal water bottle!
From Left - Norden - All made from plastic waste and include a water bottle
Part of London’s Fashion East show during LFWM, Dublin designer and recent MA Westminster graduate, Robyn Lynch, referenced old football supporter footage from the Irish television channel RTE in her first collection. This tone-on-tone, normcore collection took the best of Ireland and injected sports and technical details. This sleeveless Aran sweater with side adjusters is a perfect example of this.
From Left - Fashion East debut collection from Irish designer, Robyn Lynch
Finding stylish American basics is much harder than you think. Those grey army sweats which make any man look like Steve McQueen are very subtle to get right. Knickerbocker says it is a “factory born brand” and is transparent about its manufacturers which are mostly in Portugal, but do include the USA.
The standout item is the sailor-like hooded grey sweatshirt to wear On The Town a la Frank Sinatra!
The two main Berlin men’s trade shows, relevant to the UK market, SEEK and Premium, had a switch up for the AW19 season. SEEK, the younger, more streetwear and sportswear focused show pushed its separate area for skate fashion, Bright, into the main show space. What this did was make the show feel more outerwear heavy and technical and showed a definite turning away from branded sportswear for AW19.
Premium on the other hand made the correct decision to reorder their show spaces: mixing the brands and giving the feeling of discovery rather than uniform looking halls. Premium is, just that, more premium, targeting an older demographic with the deeper pockets to buy more expensive clothes and finishes.
Left - Inside the main hall at Premium, Berlin
Here are the big AW19 trends coming out from Berlin and the labels worth making a note of:
Post Sportswear Preppy
The sportswear juggernaut was bound to slow at some point and we’re seeing the beginnings of it for AW19. The overall feeling was of less branding and colour and the idea that sportswear to segue-waying itself into new areas. Retro sportswear is going out the door and morphing into either more technical or preppy product. A perfect example of this is Champion doing branded rugby shirts. It’s still sportswear, but it’s moving back into the preppy area of menswear. This will be how preppy returns to fashion.
Left - Lacoste 80s college jacket
Right - Champion showing the segue way from sports into preppy with rugby shirts
The Recycled Renaissance of Denim
Always eco-conscious and sustainably minded, the German shows have always been home to brands trying to change the system and limit fashion’s impact. Denim, one of the world’s most destructive fabrics in terms of pesticides, water and dyeing, needs a way back into fashion.
Two Dutch brands, Butcher of Blue and Mud Jeans are pioneering reusing and recycling denim. Butcher of Blue reworks vintage and Mud Jeans asks for its old jeans to be returned to be completely taken back to the raw fibre and remade. They also offer a leasing service - €7.50 a month, €29 sign up - for those who don’t want to own. Around 40% of the new jeans are from old jean fibres.
HNST, a new German jeans brand, claims to include 56% of reused denim fibres in its new jeans with the rest being Tencel. People donate their old jeans and electrolytes are used to fix the indigo to the fabric and make the dye soluble. Expect more of this from the bigger denim brands.
Left - HNST denim recycling old jeans into new
Corduroy has been making inroads back into menswear over the last few winters. Biscuit and forest green are the main colours, here, as it spreads from coats and trousers into accessories and footwear. Related to the remerging preppy trend, corduroy offers a fresh collegiate take in warm team colours.
Clockwise from left - Superga, Kangol, Far Afield, Averse
For those men wanting colour and pattern, tartan is the fabric of the AW19 season. First seen on the catwalks of London, tartan is a masculine way of putting interest safely into a any man’s wardrobe. Portuguese brand, Averse, had classic Black Watch, and Schneiders offered something more appropriate for those Rupert The Bear wannabes.
From Left - Schneiders, Averse
Long-Line Arctic Parkas
This is a trend that needs another winter to build, but get in early. Expect many more of these for AW20. In a saturated coat market and the oversized trend blowing up - pardon the pun - the arctic parka is getting longer and more cocoon like.
The American, but Italian run and owned, Refridgwear, has done a collection with a German designer, (they wouldn’t name just yet), where the bottom foot of the jacket can be simply added and taken away. All for around €500. There were a few more brands, such as Woolrich, doing similar long-line styles at Pitti Uomo.
Left - Refridgwear collab with a yet unnamed German designer, the bottom section is detachable
A father a son team, Tom & Adam, from Riga in Latvia, feature wearing their own product on the website and in imagery. Made in Latvia, designed in Paris, this new underwear and swimwear brand is trying to get us off our cheap addiction and slipping into something with more quality.
Trunks - €35, Swimshorts - €150
A Design Collective
A new British casual shoe brand offering value in the luxury, minimal cup-sole market. Made from Italian leather in Portugal, the people behind A Design Collective currently do private label and are now launching with the Common Projects customer in mind with this £130 sports shoe. Launches July.
Barcelona based, Brava Fabrics, manages to tread that fine line between fun and immature. Their Spanish made fabrics feature yellow submarines, llamas - the new unicorn? - and the ever nostalgic cassette tapes. The fun side of hipster.
This type of padded outdoor slipper could be the new slider. New British brand, Coma Toes, certainly hopes that’s true with their collection of padded sports slip-ons. I’ve seen something similar from The North Face before, but there’s always room for a new, well-priced and casual footwear trend. Watch this space...
Offering great value and made in London outerwear, Wax London is a husband and wife design team. They aim to bring the manufacturing of traditional British outerwear back to the UK. These are complimented with staple essentials of jerseys, knits and shirts crafted in Portugal and Italy.
Salzburg based, Schneiders, is a quality outerwear producer with traditional alpine shaped and loden type fabrics. In the upper price points, the product is made in Romania, but from premium fabric and fur finishes. For the modern Cecil Beatons.
Thei-Sprint began in 1935 with Heinz Theisen, a man who dedicated his life to professional cycling. Born in the textile district of Moenchengladbach, after World War II he began making his own equipment, jerseys and gear.
In 1965 he returned to his roots and began designing cycling equipment again. With his own knitting machines, he made jerseys and beanies for local teams together with his wife in their basement. The “Thei-Sprint“ brand was born.
By 1985 Theisen had joined the renowned Telekom and Coast cycling teams as a mechanic. His final triumph came in the 1988 Seoul Olympics where Theisen won gold as a chief mechanic with the West German track cycling team. He is famous for his red beanie which they continue to make proudly in Germany.
Shaving giant, Gillette, introduces “Gillette SkinGuard Sensitive” designed to stop the irritation many men with sensitive skin experience when shaving. The “innovative” razor places a breakthrough “SkinGuard” bar positioned between two of Gillette’s blades to gently smooth and flatten the skin away, taking the pressure off the blades during the shave.
Due to the blades’ position, hair is only pulled and cut up to 2x in each stroke, which reduces tug and pull. Many multi-blade razors use each blade to gently tug the hair outside the follicle, trimming each hair in rapid succession while they remain extended. Once the blades pass and the hair retracts, it has been trimmed below the surface of the skin. This kind of close shave is optimal for many men, but for others can contribute to skin irritation or a propensity for ingrown hairs.
This gives guys with sensitive skin a comfortable shave without the irritation. With research certified by the British Skin Foundation (BSF), Gillette SkinGuard Sensitive is clinically proven to stop shaving irritation.
TheChicGeek says, “Gillette is the dominant force in men’s shaving by a country mile. But, over the past few years, many up-starts, mostly notably subscription services like Harry’s, have been eating into their market share. Read more ChicGeek reviews about the competition here
Their new woke advert, getting away from the hyper-masculine “The Best A Man Can Get” moniker, is trying to show a more cuddly and modern side of Gillette.
Owned by the giant Procter & Gamble corporation, Gillette is probably the most innovative of the razor brands, having the deep pockets needed to research and fine tune this type of technology. They need to continually pull away from the competition, offer newness and improvements if they want continue their dominance.
Sensitive skin is a problem for many guys - (44%) of men have tried shaving less often to try and reduce the irritation they suffer due to their sensitive skin according to Gillette’s research.
Gillette obviously want us to shave more, but this type of sensitive skin razor can be used by all guys, obviously. I previously liked their “FlexBall” razor, but I don’t think that is in here, as it’s not mentioned.
I also used their complementary SkinGuard Sensitive shaving foam, and I can report that this is one of the BEST shaves I’d had for a very long time - THIS IS NOT SPONSORED!!!!
There was no pull and I had to check it had actually cut the hairs as there was no sensation with the movement of the razor. It was smooth and close and felt effortless.
One thing I feel Gillette doesn’t compete with its rivals on is the perception of value. Though, to be fair, at £8.99, this does feel cheaper than their usual prices, especially for a new product.
I just don’t understand why they can’t be more generous with the blades. You buy the razor with one blade and then, almost straight away, you need to purchase a box of expensive blades before you’ve even tried or grown to love this one. It feels expensive, short-sighted and, also, tight on the side of Gillette.
I would charge £10-£12 for this and put in 3 extra blades. It feels generous, creates more brand loyalty and leaves guys feeling that they’ve got something good for a good price and they don’t have think about buying anything razor related for a few months. Skin isn’t the only sensitive thing when it comes to shaving. Price is too.”
Above Left & Below - Gillette SkinGuard - £8.99 www.gillette.co.uk
It was most likely those wrinkly Ugg boots, looking like an oversized Shar-Pei, that garnered Y/Project its recent and biggest amount of attention. The Paris based label, headed by Belgian designer, Glenn Martens, has been lumped in with that Off-White/Balenciaga cool wave of recent years. Martens, 35, has been at Y/Project for the past 5 years, taking over from founder, Yohan Serfaty, when he died in 2013. His first assistant, Martens, was an Interior Architecture graduate and an alumni from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp.
Left - Y/Project's signature waders
This season’s guest designer at Florence’s Pitti Uomo, this was the label’s AW19 show of men’s and womenswear, bringing forward their usual date from Paris.
Forget the museum, it was a night at Florence’s famous Santa Maria Novella monastery, next to the central station and known for its smellies. Guests were given torches as they entered the huge, darkened church and we followed the hundreds of mini flashlights into the cloistered quadrant where the catwalk ran around the four sides with the models ending up like chess pieces in the middle.
Divine despite the cold, the columns and erect cypresses were silhouetted onto the shaded honey walls as the models took a turn on what has to be one of the longest catwalks ever. One model was hobbling in her lemon yellow stilettos before she’d reached the fourth side and on into the soil centre.
What we saw was a delight of design. Yes, a designer actually trying to design something and, the majority of times, pulling it off. There’s such a difference between a designer, here, and an editor, the majority of brands, who just reconfigure and fine tune things. The word here was reconstruction. Your eye followed seams and there was an itching want to open it all up and look inside: seeing where things were going to and how they worked. This is the kind of stuff that interests us fashion geeks and isn’t something Zara can easily replicate, and, as such, makes you crave the original.
Right - Y/Project AW19 - First men's bag and shoe collection
This was the debut of the brand’s men’s footwear and bag line, both hand-crafted in Italy.
The signature waders were there, but in rigid, shiny plastic, almost like creased trousers with the shoes attached. There was plenty for the tailoring revivalists. A new tuxedo jacket appeared where the satin label was pulled out to create a 3D effect with the button. This is difficult stuff to get looking right. Fringed scarves resembling Turkish carpets added to accessorises, plus pinstripes and this season’s pattern du jour, tartan.
This was contemporary cool, bit not aching or gimmicky. You could see different age groups in these clothes and wearers enjoying the newness and the details. It felt like the direction we’re headed in. From the deconstructed and harsh reality of recent years, back to a glamour of construction and playing with new ideas while still keeping it real.
This feels like the last of this type of designer we’ll see at Pitti Uomo, as I predict a return to more tailoring and Italian industry brands, but, Martens, lead us into temptation and away from the sportswear grunge to a higher sophistication. Could Martens become the Y/Prophet?
London Fashion Week Men’s - LFWM - was stripped back in more ways than one, this season. While the bones of the skeleton schedule were showing through, it was the lack of themes on the catwalks that really raised questions. What we were given was a genderless, season-less and sex less display of menswear: a casstratrated men’s fashion week. The rumour mill was flying that LFWM will soon be merged with the women’s London Fashion Week. It’s worth noting, there were as many female models as men, so, if gender is becoming less of a differentiation, then London Fashion Week will become just that, and the two separate halves could make a whole.
Left - Alex Mullins AW19 - Girls for Boys?
If the men do return to the women, it needs to be as equals and not just a day tagged on at the end. Menswear is outgrowing womenswear, and is always seen as the less established and important sibling from brands who see ii as an add-on and not a priority. It’ll be interesting to see which brands are brave enough to give menswear equal billing.
Men’s fashion needs stereotypes to challenge, it needs boundaries to push and lines to blur, if all the lines have been erased, aren’t you just floating into nothingness? And that’s what it felt like a bit here. Menswear collections entirely shown on females models - Alex Mullins produced an entire men's show featuring only female models - more non-binary club kids dressing up in dated womenswear or six pack revealing T-shirts for the coldest months of the year: it was the male minimised.
As for gender, the whole big reveal of a chick-with-a-dick is no longer shocking, nor interesting, nor original. Art School showed a collection that didn’t look good on either gender and, Charles Jeffrey, the Uri Geller of the London scene, continued with more theatrics, but, in his defence, when the feathers stopped flying and the smoke and mirrors were turned off, the collection looked more accomplished and could hold its own alongside any other designer in-store.
This lack of focus made for a schizoid season, and it was brands like E. Tautz, which didn’t do anything particularly new, that created a pull and yearning for collections featuring something beautiful again. Bored with sports, bored with fugly, the next men’s movement will be a return to something you want to enjoy and cherish rather than Instagram and discard.
That most British thing of all, the weather, was totally missing during LFWM. It’s all about “drops”, and “Autumn/Winter” is delivered in the middle of the summer, but, before, many brands and designers would start with this idea of “Winter” or, rain, which made Burberry. That probably had something to do with bigger budgets and fancier staging. Larger and more established brands used to like to ram home the cold weather feel, already visualising the windows, and while this idea is dated, at this LFWM, many of the clothes could have been for any month, anywhere, at anytime. So, what makes it 2019?
Sex was missing too. Even the hyper masculine muscle boys at Astrid Andersen were covered up for a luxury pyjama party. It was as though men were getting ready to go into hibernation until all this woke madness blows over. Though, Per Götesson, showed T-shirts pulled up to reveal the stomach, perfect for those social media body fascists. “It’s about equal parts vanity and fragility.” he says. “Each piece is designed three dimensionally around the body. We are applying techniques perhaps more common in womenswear and couture where lines and proportions in movement are taken into consideration. The jersey pieces are developed using this process, it is about finding a balance between strength and fragility.” And, there was me just thinking it was about likes on Instagram. Back to creating a male pecking order, As soon as one thing disappears, a new line or goal is revealed to differentiate the masses: that unattainable 8-pack separating the men from the boys.
Right - Art School AW19
Fashion is about selling change and, as a designer or brand, you need to create desire for that change into what you are presenting at that moment in time. Genderless, season-less, sexless, can equal nothingness. Just please don’t make men redundant.
At the end of a tumultuous year for traditional retail, and at the start of another, which doesn’t appear to offer much respite, there’s been a distinct trend in rebranding for both luxury and high-street brands. While you’d expect them to want to stand out, it seems as though they all want to blend into one another. This homogenisation is a case of an expensive “reblanding” exercise. Rebranding means creating a different identity for a brand, from its competitors, in the market, which, in fashion, is even more important especially when you're trying to flog luxury goods and the idea of difference and individuality. This feels like the opposite.
The recent rebland list is long: Belstaff, Celine, Calvin Klein, John Lewis, Burberry, Berluti and Balmain have all gone for simple and bolded logos without any of the details and distinct serifs. Playing it safe, what these new logos and fonts say is a lack of confidence and often change for change’s sake.
Left - The recent logo "reblands"
In August, Burberry unveiled its new logo. Replacing the Burberry Equestrian Knight logo with its bespoke Bodoni font, which had been used by the clothing company since 1901, the new logo is the work of celebrated British graphic designer, Peter Saville. It’s also worth noting he rebranded Calvin Klein with a similar font when Raf Simons took over and wanted to refresh.
"The new logotype is a complete step-change, an identity that taps into the heritage of the company in a way that suggests the twenty-first-century cultural coordinates of what Burberry could be," Saville exclusively told Dezeen. Somewhat cryptic and full of marketing speak, he describes what he and Riccardo Tisci, the new Burberry Creative Director, settled on as “modern utility,” adding, “It looks like it’s been there forever, but it’s still contemporary.”
Right - Hedi's masterstroke?!
Tisci said on Instagram ‘Peter is one of our generation’s greatest design geniuses. I’m so happy to have collaborated together to reimagine the new visual language for the house.’
Burberry are in the throes of changing everything way before the new Creative Director’s impact has been proven. As his first collection hits stores to a rather muted response by the fashion press, it’ll be interesting to see how it sells, especially the items with this new logo on.
Seb Law, Fashion Copywriter & Journalist, says, “I really hate that they’ve added’ ENGLAND’ to the Burberry logo after London. As if it’s London, Texas or something.”
It “Seems like an attempt to look ‘international’ and more premium, but also it’s now becoming an established way of a new designer starting at a different house to mark the start of their chapter. Does the general consumer care about this, or is it dive behaviour? Also rebrands cause plenty of chatter in fashion circles and build publicity – see Hedi’s previous rebrand of SLP. All press is good press, apparently.” says Law.
Hedi Slimane is a designer who likes to put his mark onto a brand and in September it was announced that the French house, Celine would be, controversially, losing its accent. Law and others have been defacing the brand’s posters by returning the accent to the first e.
“For me, it’s a matter of good use of language. As a copywriter and journalist (with a degree in French), diacritics aren’t just a pretty typographic tool to be played around with at the will of a designer, they’re an integral part of the word.” says Law. “‘Celine’ and ‘Céline’ are different words, pronounced differently (‘sell-een’ and ‘say-lean’, respectively). he says.
“It’s a continuation of the cult of personality over brand, in both cases. Causing a splash, in whatever way possible, seems to be the aim of the game. With Burberry, I’m disappointed that the logo doesn’t have a more uniquely British feeling, which the old one did IMO – I do love the interlocking TB print though.” says Law. “With Céline, it’s a classic case of Hedi doing whatever he wants. Brands should be aiming to exercise their unique personalities; this uniqueness is what attracts customers and maintains a brand’s personality. Homogenisation might attract sales, at least initially, and while change is obviously necessary, and often good, these two rebrand exercises feel like they’re a bit half-arsed. They’ve succeeded at building publicity, but is that what a logo redesign should do?” he says.
Left - The new logos are all very similar
On the high-street, John Lewis, in September, rebranded as John Lewis & Partners at a reported cost of £10m. Its first rebrand in 18 years and inspired by the company's 1960s "diamond pattern" motif, John Lewis managed to not only complicate its name but also lose its trademark dark green. Opting for safe black, it was yet another example of this reblanding trend.
In an age when these brands should really be trying to expressive confidence in themselves, these boring logos show a striving for safety and an anti-criticism blandness. It’s hard to be critical and negative about something so simple, yet they aren’t memorable or standing out. These aren't utility companies. Fashion’s current love of the sans-serif is definitely missing something.
I spoke to Stephane Helene, co-founder of the new Huntsman shaving subscription brand, and he said, “I used to use a couple of other shaving subscription brands, but the quality just wasn’t there, whether it was the cream or handle or the blades. I then shared this with my barber and suggested we should start something.Mr Jackson, who is a Master Barber of nearly 30 years, and I spent over 2 years testing and finding the perfect package. I would not have entered the shaving or grooming market without having someone with vast experience and knowledge as a partner.”
Left - Huntsman, the "Quintessential Shaving Club"
Stephane’s background is in advertising and this Huntsman has nothing to do with the Savile Row tailor of the same name. His partner, Mr Jackson, opened his first barbershop in 1990. Twenty eight years later he now owns a chain of high-end male grooming centres.
TheChicGeek says, “This is more a curated box than a standard branded razor subscription with everything being produced by the one brand. It contains 4 products: Huntsman luxury razor handle, 4 X Gillette Mach III Turbo Blades, Edwin Jagger ‘Hydrating Pre Shave Lotion’ and Edwin Jagger ‘Premium Shaving Cream’.
You get a choice of 3 shaving creams: (A) Sandalwood For Normal Skin - Exotic peppery wood and spice aroma, (B) Aloe Vera For Sensitive Skin - Soothing with a natural delicate fragrance, and (C) Cooling Menthol For Normal Skin - Calming and soothing with subtle fragrance.
I would steer clear of the cooling menthol as the ‘Hydrating Pre Shave Lotion’ is mega cooling already and I wouldn’t want you to OD on the menthol! The only branded Huntsman product in the box is the handle and my feedback would be that it looks a bit old fashioned and ‘traditional’.
What shaving really needs is a good injection of the contemporary. Shaving needs to become cool again and all this traditional, Victorian type product just doesn’t feel like the right direction. It’s tired. Somebody needs to make shaving feel contemporary. Something we want to do and get back involved with. MAKE SHAVING GREAT AGAIN! Now, that’s a challenge for somebody.
The blades and 2 products, full price, add up to around £37, so you’re saving £2, while getting the handle and postage free.
If they’re not using their own branded products, I would offer more variety and allow guys more options to mix and match the box. For example, 2 products with the razors, but one month could be pre-shave and another maybe a post-shave or moisturiser. Just an idea.”
Right - Huntsman - ‘Daily Shaver’ - 1 Box Sent Every 6 weeks - £35, ‘Occasional Shaver’ 1 Box Sent Every 12 weeks - £35
Looking for a shaving/razor subscription? Read more ChicGeek Tried & Tested review on Boldking, Bic & Grüum here
The darling of British online retail, ASOS, today, issued a statement saying it saw “significant deterioration” in trading in the run-up to Christmas. Blaming the weather and a high level of discounting and promotional activity across the market, it said it lead it to increase its own special offers, which typically eat into profit margins.
November 2018 is set to go down as one of the worst retail months in recent memory. Mike Ashley, the Sports Direct boss, was recently quoted as saying, “November was the worst on record, unbelievably bad”. He said “No one could have budgeted for that. Retailers just cannot take that kind of November. It will literally smash them to pieces.”
Left - ASOS' HQ - Black cats for Black Friday?
While ASOS only saw a slowing in sales growth - it now expects sales growth of 15% for the year to August 2019, down from 20% to 25% - it also shows the chill running through the entire retail sector.
A perfect storm of lower footfall, Black Friday discounts, Brexit shaking consumer confidence and a highly competitive market in general, is making things very dicey for the retail sector. Retailer, Stuart Rose, formerly of Marks & Spencer, told ITV News, “I sense this is a very slow Christmas … You have the uncertainty of Brexit, people are uncertain about what the future is going to look like next year. [Consumers] have their hands in their pockets. Car sales? Down. House sales? Down. Big ticket sales? Down. I suspect there will be some uncomfortable trading statements in the early part of January.”
Even the juggernaut of Primark is reporting a slowdown. It has warned of “challenging” trading conditions. John Bason, the finance director of Primark’s parent Associated British Foods (ABF), said “I think it is a call on quite mild weather during November and I think it’s affected footfall.” This is important to Primark because it doesn’t sell online. Bason told Reuters that while sales at stores open more than one year were “just positive” in September and October, they had turned negative in November.
On a brighter note, overall consumer spending rose 3.3% year on year in November, but it was the lowest growth since March, despite the boost from Black Friday, according to Barclaycard. Clothing spending contracted by 2.9%, the biggest fall since October 2017, while spending on household appliances was down by 14%.
One thing interesting to note is ASOS mentioning its slowdown in Europe. It said trading conditions across Germany and France, which account for 60% of the retailer’s EU sales, have become significantly more challenging, which means this is a wider problem than Brexit. ASOS said “The current backdrop of economic uncertainty across many of our major markets together with a weakening in consumer confidence has led to the weakest growth in online clothing sales in recent years. We have recalibrated our expectations for the current year accordingly.”
So, let’s look at this weather. According to the Met Office, “November began with relatively cold quiet weather, but from the 3rd to 14th it was mild with a predominance of southerly winds. It was cold with easterly winds from the 19th to 26th, with frequent rain or showers for the east and south-west. It turned very mild, wet and windy in all parts of the country from the 27th onwards. The provisional UK mean temperature was 7.3 °C.” This up and down weather isn’t particularly unusual for November and we had two decent cold spells to help shift more seasonal, colder weather stock. The weather is always an easy excuse for retailers reporting bad figures.
Right - Primark is opening its largest store in the world in Birmingham this month
Black Friday, though, is wiping out profit margins for retailers with consumers expecting huge discounts and it’s stopping people from hitting the high-street. UK retail endured the biggest drop in footfall for the month of November since 2009. It also marked the 12th consecutive month of footfall decline. Discounts were made for online; no pushing and shoving to then leave disappointed. If they’ve got it, it’s in the basket, and you probably don’t buy anything else while you’re there unlike if you’d gone to the high-street or a shopping centre.
Laura Ashley just announced it was closing a further 40 stores and, last week, Bonmarché issued a profit warning and Blue Inc fell into administration.
Many retailers will be praying for a good Christmas, but to make up these sales in the three weeks to Christmas will be tough, especially with so many factors working against them. Primark and ASOS are strong retailers and will weather this storm, but many will not. To continue the weather metaphors, this could be the hardest frost to hit the retail sector in many years and anybody small or not hardy enough will be dead before the winter is out.
Luxury brand names were once a signifier of quality and craftsmanship. In the race to grow and hit those billion dollar turnovers many luxury fashion brands have diminished their quality to a point where you can no longer tell the difference between a real or fake product.
In the Evening Standard, this week, columnist, Charlotte Edwardes, spoke about the difference she’s noticed in the quality of designer clothes. “Yani at my local dry cleaner informs me: ‘Clothes don’t last any more.’ We are standing on either side of the counter in his shop with an almost-new shirt lying between us. It is silk, but like some reverse sow’s ear, it has developed the consistency of polyester.” she writes.
Left - Bombinate homepage
“I tell him that two beautiful Celine shirts (don’t judge: they were 70 per cent off in Bicester) were stripped of their vibrant colour and silky texture after a few runs through the ‘gold standard’ service. The trousers I am wearing in the picture accompanying this column have also lost their shape. Yani shakes his head. It’s the fault of the manufacturers and not his new - ‘organic’ - machines. In the 65 years and three generations that his family have run this business ‘we’ve noticed a sharp decline in the quality of clothes.’ What, even expensive brands? ‘Especially expensive brands.’”
Edwardes goes on to say that her contact at Net-a-Porter confirms that the quality of clothes is in decline with two famous fashion houses being the worst offenders.
Personally, I’ve even heard of a story where the cotton logo-ed T-shirts of one huge “luxury’ brand were so thin and, of such poor quality, that the department store they were in couldn’t attach security tags without making a hole in the garment.
This all confirms something I’ve long suspected and, something, I expect, you may have noticed.
All is not lost, though, there are still some amazing producers and manufacturers out there and there’s a new trend in bringing these, often unknown, labels and makers to a wider audience.
The Bombinate marketplace, launched in 2017, and, recently relaunched, specialises in brands of quality for men and has secured an alliance of 100+ brands.
“The main stipulation for being part of the Bombinate community is that each brand aligns with Bombinate’s quality criteria and have a compelling story. Men from around the world can now easily discover a curated selection of European brands that all share the same commitment to quality and design.” says the website.
Founded by European entrepreneurs, Massimiliano Gritti and Elliott Aeschlimann, who were both students studying marketing and finance at different universities in London. “The story of Bombinate started on a bumpy road, somewhere between Russia and Mongolia. Something during these two months traversing the legendary Silk Road inspired us to take the plunge,” says Gritti. “Driving at night didn’t prevent us from having a clear vision of what we wanted to create: an online destination that would be both a home for high-quality brands and a source of inspiration for men who care about quality,” he says. “Back to London, we set sail again to discover the finest menswear and lifestyle goods Europe has to offer. We soon realised that the future of craftsmanship lies in the hands of extraordinary people, and made it our promise to promote them and deliver their craft from their workshop to your door,” says Gritti.
The word “Bombinate” means to make a humming or buzzing noise and the website offers a platform to quality producers, but how do they decide which brands make the cut? “The promise to bring the world’s finest craftsmanship brands to men who care about quality does not come without its challenges,” says Gritti. “At Bombinate we have created a scorecard to source craftsmanship brands. It is based on 5 different factors: Design, Story, Materials, Founders, Skills,” he says.
Many of the brands on the website, such as Arkitaip, Juch and Oscar Deen aren’t well known, and that’s really the point. You’re trusting Bombinate as the umbrella brand for quality and therefore it’s very important for this nascent online brand to fulfil the expectations of its customers. While you’re not paying for a designer name, you are paying for quality and the majority of people know quality when they see it and these brands need to over deliver on this front.
“The real issue at hand is discoverability and accessibility of quality pieces at a fair price today,” says Gritti.
Bombinate has secured investment from a former Richemont Group and Cartier CEO and lastminute.com’s founder and has the potential to sweep up shoppers disillusioned with the quality of some luxury goods at the moment.
Another website offering luxury quality without the name is ‘Italic’. Italic is a marketplace that lets consumers shop unbranded luxury goods. They say by removing brands and labels from the equation, manufacturers earn significantly higher profits while passing "brand markup” savings onto customers.
The website proudly announces, “Shop luxury goods straight from the source”, and “Handbags made by the same factory as Prada and Celine”, but this only really means something if the factories and suppliers are of quality. “Based in sunny Los Angeles and fast-paced Shenzhen, Italic is a members-only marketplace where normal people (not sure what that means) can shop for luxury goods directly from the manufacturers behind the most desired brands and designers.” says the website.
Right - Italic homepage - This only works if Prada and Celine use a decent factory, which is often debatable today
Shoppers pay a $120 annual membership fee, this is free for a year for early sign-ups, and can choose from a selection of unbranded luxury goods, from bags and wallets to sheets and toothbrushes.
The company’s investors include Index Ventures, Ludlow Ventures, Comcast Ventures and Global Founders Capital among them. The company says 100,000 people have joined a waiting list to be notified when membership opens, and is initially limited to the US.
What these platforms both suggest is a growing movement back to quality. Consumers are growing dissatisfied with luxury goods which seem to grow forever more expensive. This growing niche needs curation and also control, but if they can deliver what they promise they can expect to grow rapidly. Trust is paramount here.
A 2017 Deloitte study of over 1,000 millennial consumers aged 20-30 across the US, UK, Italy and China found that “quality and uniqueness” are the most important factors that attract them to a luxury brand. Good luck finding that!
TheChicGeek says, ”The first question really should be, why did London have to wait so long? It seems almost too obvious, that, in 2018, there wasn’t a single, male specific environment offering, exclusively, pedicures and manicures for men. There are a few traditional barbers offering some hand and feet treatments, but this is the first, than I’ve ever known, to specialise.
Left - Put your feet up for 'The Modern Footman'
Situated in a private room at the back of Sharps Barber Shop on Windmill Street, Fitzrovia, Aldwyn & Sons, has the assured look and feel of a gentleman’s club. The brainchild of former city boy, the fabulously named Aldwyn Boscawen, Aldwyn & Sons is ‘taking inspiration from the role of the footman from yesteryear’.
Boscawen retrained in hand and foot care and saw the potential of a male only grooming brand offering these treatments. Literally asking men to put their feet up, ‘The Modern Footman’ has a new meaning as your slide into the leather club chair. An area long neglected by guys, me included, our trotters need some TLC every now and again.
Room for only one gentleman at a time, the small room is an intimate and relaxed affair with a collection of furniture and pictures celebrating the revival of all things Georgian during the 1980s.
I must admit, my feet are extremely ticklish, and I’m not massively keen on having my feet touched, but I also like the idea of somebody tidying up my toe nails and making my plates-of-meat look a little more presentable.
I mentioned this to Aldwyn, and, after the initial soapy soaking, he gently cut and filed by toe nails and feet - this is the wriggly bit for me - and then moisturised and massaged my feet.
Right - Aldwyn & Sons' intimate gentleman's club atmosphere
I wished I could have enjoyed it more, but that was more about my sensitivity than the actual treatment.
Pedicures for men are a great idea, especially when nearing beach or pool time, and anywhere that makes you feel relaxed, comfortable and leaving with a spring in your step has got to be a welcome addition to London’s grooming scene."
Aldwyn & Sons’ bespoke menu of treatments includes manicures priced from £30 and pedicures from £40. The signature, 45-minute ‘Modern Footman’, encompassing a pedicure of nail and cuticle work, foot filing, exfoliation and moisturising, followed by a foot massage is £50
Aldwyn & Sons, Barber & Shop on 9 Windmill Street, London www.aldwynsons.co.uk
Below - Liquor as hard as (toe) nails? Soz